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Lawmakers pass more blame than bills in do-nothing Congress

By CNN Capitol Hill Unit
updated 11:48 AM EST, Sat December 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Congress is on track to have its least productive year in recent history
  • Boehner blames the Democratic Senate, White House, cites 148 House-passed bills
  • Many targeted Obamacare, dealt with shutdown with no chance of passage
  • Democrats blame House conservatives for impeding legislative progress

Washington (CNN) -- Congress is on pace to have its least productive year in modern history, earning a "do-nothing" label and adding another unwanted statistic to a body already facing chronically low approval ratings.

Cue the blame game.

"To date, the House has passed nearly 150 bills this Congress that the United States Senate has failed to act on," Republican Speaker John Boehner argued Wednesday. "The Senate (and) the President continue to stand in the way of the people's priorities."

Democrats are tossing responsibility right back in the GOP's lap, arguing that hardline House conservatives are blocking legislative progress.

• Number of laws passed so far by the 113th Congress -- 56: Sound substantial? Check out the breakdown.

• Bills limited to one piece of land or region -- 10: These include the Denali Park Improvement Act, the Freedom to Fish Act and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Boundary Modification Act.

• Reauthorization of laws -- 5: The U.S. Parole Commission, a congressional award program and a handful of other regular pieces of business were reauthorized -- not exactly heavy lifting.

• Keeping government running -- 5: Congress repeatedly had to vote to fund government and keep the bureaucracy from hitting its self-imposed debt ceiling.

• Naming things -- 4: Congress voted to name a bridge, a VA building, an air traffic control tower and a section of the IRS Code.

• What else did they do? Most of the others were focused and had limited impact. One dealt with how to handle organ transplants from HIV+ donors. Another delayed new pipeline safety standards.

• There were a few heavy lifts: The House and Senate agreed on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, prepared for a possible pandemic flu and handled the nation's helium reserve, pivotal in the medical world.)

• Stuck in idle: Immigration; jobs and the economy; energy reform/Keystone pipeline/climate change; future Medicare insolvency; future Social Security insolvency.

Meanwhile, America's national legislature is growing increasingly dysfunctional.

No deal, but sides said to be closer on budget deal

So far, 56 bills have been signed into law in the first session of the 113th Congress. Assuming legislators don't pick up the pace next year -- and the smart money says they won't as the midterms draw near -- this will become the least productive Congress in at least the last 40 years, according to a CNN analysis of congressional records.

Is the fact that fewer bills have become law necessarily a bad thing? That depends on your point of view. But representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle readily acknowledge that some major issues have not been addressed.

GOP obstruction of Obamacare is closing hospitals

Congress hasn't passed a budget, among other things. None of the 12 annual spending bills has made it to the President's desk. We don't have a new farm bill. Immigration reform is stalled. Tax and entitlement reform are dead in the water.

Adding insult to injury, in October the federal government had its first partial shutdown in nearly two decades.

The most important issue in Washington political circles, naturally, is who's responsible.

Democrats point out that roughly one-third of the 148 bills passed by the GOP-controlled House so far this year were attempts to repeal, delay or defund Obamacare that had zero chance of passing the Senate or surviving a certain presidential veto.

Washington could still screw up your holidays

More than a dozen of those measures were also partisan, piecemeal spending bills passed during the government shutdown that had no chance of being signed into law.

Some of them had nothing to do with major issues at all, such as the bills renaming courthouses in Sherman, Texas, and Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the House GOP a bunch of "modern-day anarchists." But Republicans argue that Democrats are standing in the way of priorities such as entitlement reform. Democrats are standing in the way of a major overhaul of the tax code, they insist.

While both the House and the Senate passed farm bills, Democrats are blocking much-needed changes to the country's agriculture laws, Republicans say.

As is usually the case in Washington, your opinion of which party is to blame is probably determined by which party you belong to. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are growing more ideologically distant by the day.

And that is a recipe for gridlock.

Opinion: Here's something Congress could actually do

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